MINNEAPOLIS - Jacob Wetterling's kidnapping, from the very beginning, carried that feeling of, "It could have been any of our kids."
Over the years, as a direct result of this case and the advocacy of the Wetterlings, several laws changed in an effort to keep kids safe across the entire country.
Minnesota's highest profile kidnapping case involved a boy who eventually felt like a part of all our families.
“It's our child, Jacob, but it's kind of a symbol. It's everyone's child,” Jacob’s father Jerry Wetterling said days after the boy’s disappearance.
In the years that followed, the Wetterlings lived that mantra.
“Patty somehow had the fortitude to just try to do everything she could to not only find Jacob, but help other families who are dealing with this trauma,” said Cordelia Anderson, board member of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Anderson says the Wetterlings began that mission by spreading hope. Then, by taking action.
In 1994, after the Wetterlings lobbied for it, President Clinton signed the Wetterling Act -- requiring every state to keep a sex offender registry. So law enforcement could better track the most dangerous offenders and share investigative information.
“It was a very moving experience to be part of changing federal legislation and handing over a law enforcement tool that we think will be effective,” Patty Wetterling said from Washington, D.C. that day.
“As a former prosecutor, I can tell you it made a big difference. It made it easy for the police to track where people were,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who once ran against Patty Wetterling for the Democratic nomination.
Then in 2002, Patty played a key role in the implementation of Amber Alerts in Minnesota to get key information out there in the first few hours following an abduction.
“Just the idea that you've got to try to get to these cases right away. As Patty would tell you, the first 48 hours are crucial,” said former KARE 11 Reporter Allen Costantini.
Costantini got to know the Wetterlings as they quickly embraced the role of child advocates -- expanding that advocacy to the national stage.
“Most of us, if anything like that had happened to us, we would have curled up in a ball,” Costantini said.
The rest of Minnesota watched that transformation through news reports over the years. Which is why the state is now grieving with them.
“He was part of everybody's family. Finding out now that he did die, is like literally a death in our families as well as the Wetterlings,” Costantini said.
Patty Wetterling currently serves as the chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a resource in Washington, D.C., set up to help all parents of missing kids.